December 02, 2009

Head Start’s health, nutrition efforts recognized

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Head Start program is accomplishing its mission of serving preschoolers and their families so well that it picked up a pair of awards this semester for its efforts.

The program is the recipient of the IFLOSS Oral Health Champion Award and the Interagency Community Nutrition Partner Award. Head Start is just one of five recipients statewide of the Oral Health Champion Award from IFLOSS, a coalition of public and private entities founded in late 1998 with the mission of improving the oral health of Illinois residents through advocacy and education. It is also one of just 12 recipients across the state of the Illinois Interagency Nutrition Council Community Partnership Award.

“The SIUC Head Start is a very comprehensive program. These awards illustrate that we are interested not only in the cognitive development of our children but also in assessing their health and nutrition needs, improving their learning skills and providing a variety of services that make children successful in kindergarten and beyond. We really do strive to continue to enhance our Head Start Program for the good of the children and their families,” said Cathy J. Reed, Head Start director.

During the 2008-2009 Head Start school year, 424 children in the program got one application of fluoride varnish while 258 children received two applications of the teeth-protecting fluoride. Students in the SIUC Dental Hygiene Program apply the fluoride for Head Start children with signed parental permission slips.

For 2009-2010, Head Start is again collaborating with the SIUC Dental Hygiene Program to provide the preschool children with the fluoride varnish. A remarkable 100 percent of the children turned in signed permission forms and already 86 percent got the fluoride, Reed said. Oral Health America donated the fluoride varnish for the fall 2009 semester treatments, still ongoing at this time.

For many children, this is their first opportunity for dental care. Along with the fluoride, there’s an educational component teaching the children about taking care of their teeth to prevent tooth decay and dental problems.

The IFLOSS Award came during the organization’s October meeting in Springfield.

The Illinois Interagency Nutrition Council Community Partnership Award, presented during the annual pre-service in August, recognizes the SIUC Head Start program for it health and nutrition promotion efforts. The governor formed the council several years ago to promote healthy eating, good nutrition and exercise.

A couple of years ago, the SIUC Head Start was a pilot site for the “I am Moving, I Am Learning” national initiative and the program continues. With supplemental Champions for Healthy Kids grant funding, Head Start purchased materials and created programming to increase student activity. Teachers got bags filled with music CDs, scarves, string, bean bags and assorted items and activity plans to enable the children to practice their gross motor skills while playing, even in small spaces.

Head Start also provided activity workshops and cooking demonstrations for parents so children could reap the benefits at home as well as at school. Parents even got a take-home bag of goodies enabling them to continue the playful exercises with their kids. Staff share their expertise with personnel from other community programs as well, said Toni Kay Wright, Head Start health and nutrition coordinator.

“This program addresses the problem of childhood obesity and the family’s role in preventing it,” Reed said.

The SIUC Head Start program serves hundreds of children ages 3-5 from Jackson and Williamson counties. With federal grant funding and SIUC support, the program has centers in Carbondale, Johnston City, Marion and Murphysboro and co-locations at the Logan Preschool at John A. Logan College and Malone’s Early Learning Center, both in Carterville.

Enrollment is ongoing. For more information about SIUC Head Start or enrolling a child, look online at or call 618/453-6448.